I am one of those people who gets contemplative this time of year. Coming down with the death flu that seems to have gripped the nation after Christmas gave me some extra time to think.
Thanks to having a good stockpile of preparations on hand, I kicked it pretty quickly but I was in bed for a couple of days and had a lot of time to muse.
I was pulling myself out of my third English mustard bath of the day when, I was reading a post in an herbal group about how you should never let mustard touch your skin for fear of third degree burns, so I scrolled through some of the other “advice” this person has spewed on to the Interwebz.
Who it is doesn’t matter. What matters is that this person really has no idea what they are talking about. They have never worked with a lot of the plants they talk about. It’s glaringly obvious to someone who has.
My advice to anyone who really wants to learn about herbs is to get off the fucking Internet.
But then your problem is that there are only a small number of books published in the last twenty years that I really think are worth reading and no, I am not going to tell you which ones. This isn’t about calling people out. Just understand that if I recommend a book going forward, it’s really something worthwhile.
So how do you learn? The best way is to find yourself a local teacher or herbal clinician to work with and get your hands into it.
You still have to be discerning. The 70’s were kind of weird. A lot of natural health practitioners had some whacky ideas back then and there was little oversight. Today some teachers are passing along information that they were taught back then that is really just wrong.
For example, I just found out the other day that some teachers still teach people to make milk thistle tea which is just silly. The active constituent of milk thistle is not soluble in water. Another example would be that some herbs being recommended for internal preparations have dangerous pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which make them unsuitable for consumption.
A good herbal clinician is cautious about making universal statements.
Anyone who tells you that a specific formula is “for” a particular chronic disease is guilty of the same kind of reductionist thinking that is muddling conventional medical thought. There are interventions that may help one person a lot, that don’t do anything for another.
It doesn’t even hold when you are working with acute illnesses. Do you know how many strains of the flu there are? And that they all respond well (or don’t respond) to different interventions. That’s why I write a different flu post every year.
A good herbal clinician should be able to cite specific cases that support their recommendations and belong to a support network of herbalists (not a fucking FB group) with whom they consult when they encounter something new.
Also, the phrase “plants as teachers” doesn’t mean that while sitting quietly with a plant you will suddenly be blessed with universal knowledge without any work on your part. Even people who hear them sing have to work for it. It means that after you work with them enough, through trial-and-error you will figure it out.
That’s how our ancestors learned. They participated in strong skill sharing networks informed by the experimentation of its members. They tried things and when they didn’t work, they talked about their failures too. That’s what’s lacking on the Internet today. A whole lot of people are sharing information they have Googled and have never actually done, but they are very invested in being right.
So this is the person you don’t want as a teacher.
A person who is talking about cleanses, “detoxing”, “alkalizing diets”, parasites, systemic yeast infections, gallbladder flushes, or fad diets.
A person who teaches about essential oils when their only training is some MLM marketing class. Aside from being potentially dangerous, essential oils are an ecological nightmare. There are less environmentally unfriendly and MUCH cheaper ways to work with herbs.
A person who recommends the use of grapefruit seed extract, colloidal silver, coffee enemas, kratom, or talks about pot/CBD oil (or any herb really) as a panacea, find someone else. Do not work with someone who tells you that an herb or essential oil “cures” chronic diseases.
This isn’t just my gripe. The disgust with this sort of nonsense is coming to a head amongst educated herbal clinicians everywhere. You can get a taste of how frustrated we are by reading this discussion on my Facebook wall where a bunch of us are blowing off steam about the subject.
Thomas Easley’s very excellent article I Call BS brought attention to this problem in the herbal world last year and I’ve mentioned Todd Caldecott’s articles and Sean Donahue’s articles calling out superfoods and herbal detoxes in previous blog posts.
jim mcdonald wrote about the vile atrocity that is GSE some time ago and recently he weighed in on the monumentally awful idea of doing a gallbladder flush.
Professional herbalists have to step up to the plate. That might mean that some of us have to be willing to say things like “You know, I have worked with that and I am just not seeing those results” and we have to stop sitting on our fingers when we repeatedly see people make unsafe recommendations.
You might notice that I am getting a little mouthier online. I will probably get myself in hot water once in awhile, but if the alternative is to say nothing, I just am not willing to do that any longer.
Tonight, a moderator in the Crunchy Side of Cedar Rapids Facebook group turned off comments in a thread in which I was trying to advocate for the use of gentler, whole herb preparations – especially for children- after I posted a link to the 2016 aromatherapy injury reports. I left the group because that is the second time I tried to bring up a safety concern in that group to be shut down. Thankfully the group here in Iowa City is a little more informed.
But if I get kicked out of that group someday too, I will be okay with it.
We have to take a stand somewhere. Enough is enough.